60% Keyboard: How To Use Arrow Keys

Many people like using 60% keyboards as they’re compact and ergonomic with less area to cover. Of course, these advantages have drawbacks, notably fewer keys. Some critical keys, such as arrow keys, may be missing from many models.

How To Use Arrow Keys On 60% Keyboard

1. Use Dedicated Arrow Keys

Keyboards don’t have a single universal standard, even within distinct size categories.

For instance, a full-sized keyboard can have between 100 and 110 keys, depending on the design and manufacturer. Moreover, even within this range, variations abound. 

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) stipulates a layout with 104 keys for a full-sized keyboard.

On the other hand, the International Organization for Standardization or ISO layout has 105 keys, and the Japanese Industrial Standard (JIS) layout has 108 keys. And that’s just for full-sized keyboards.

The differences in standards between keyboards – even when similar-sized – gives individual manufacturers some leeway in choosing which keys to include and which ones to omit in each model. 

Consumers may also have different preferences based on where they come from or how they use their keyboards.

For instance, accountants will prioritize a well-laid-out number pad, and gamers will want arrow or directional keys to be easily located.

While compact keyboards offer many advantages, they have one crucial drawback – fewer keys. 

The fewer keys on compact keyboards mean that some keys will be missing. Ultimately, this means the smaller the keyboard, the greater the variation in design is likely to be. 

Some compact keyboards omit the seventeen number pad keys on the right of a typical keyboard. Somewhat misleadingly, these are referred to as “tenkeyless” keyboards. 

However, unless you work with numbers a lot, many of these missing keys can be found elsewhere on the board.

60% Keyboards are more compact still and typically measure only 11.5 inches (~29 cm) by 4.25 inches (~10.75 cm). Because of this, they can have significant variations in the layout of keys from model to model.

The ANSI layout stipulates as few as 61 keys laid out in 5 rows. The top two rows have 14 keys, the third 13, the fourth 12, and the bottom row has 8.

Other designs may have as many as 63 keys laid out in various configurations. 

However, many other variants of 60% keyboards are available to consumers today. Some of these don’t have arrow keys, while others do.

So, if you want to buy a  60% keyboard and you use arrow keys a lot, consider a model that comes with dedicated arrow keys out of the box.

However, while using arrow keys with dedicated function keys might seem like the ideal solution, also look into the placement and size of the arrow keys on any model you’re considering buying. 

If arrow keys are inconveniently placed, or too small, a keyboard with arrow keys may not offer much of an advantage after all.

That said, there are still some fantastic compact keyboards out there that come with arrow keys. 

Be aware that you may have to pay a premium for a top-of-the-line item that combines the advantages of a compact layout with well-placed and fully functional arrow keys.

If you decide to go with a compact keyboard that doesn’t have dedicated arrow keys or already has such a keyboard, you’ll have to look into other ways of using arrow keys. 

We’ll look at some of these options in the following sections. 

2. Use Dual-Function Keys

The space limitations of 60% keyboards mean that designers often have to make crucial trade-offs in deciding which keys to keep and which to omit.

Many manufacturers don’t find room in their layouts for dedicated arrow keys. 

However, moving a cursor is an essential computing task for many applications and interfaces, and all manufacturers will have viable solutions for generating arrow keystrokes via their keyboards, even if they don’t include dedicated arrow keys in their layout design.

One ingenious solution that some manufacturers have devised to work around the limited number of keys on a 60% keyboard is what’s called dual-function keys.

Dual-function keys are individual keys that perform 2 separate functions or register 2 different keystrokes depending on how they’re engaged.

Such a dual-function mode goes by different names depending on the manufacturer involved. Tap Mode is one particular instance of such an implementation. 

In this case, engaging the Tap Mode on the keyboard enables specific keys to double up as arrow keys, and it can be initiated via manufacturer-provided software.

Once activated, specific keys will perform dual functions as per the preprogrammed instructions.

When you tap a key, hold it down only briefly, it functions as an arrow key. When a key is held down for a longer duration, the same key will register a different keystroke. 

While using one key to record two separate keystrokes may sound complicated, you can get accustomed to working this way with just a little practice.

Moreover, the software tool will usually allow you to calibrate such optionalities further. 

For instance, it may allow you to customize the duration threshold for a tap to be considered a press.

Precise down to 0.01 ms, these customizations will help you modify the feature for your specific applications and keyboard usage style. 

The main disadvantage of this system is that it involves a learning curve and requires customization to produce the best results. For some users, the engagement modes may not work at all. 

For instance, some gamers may want to engage arrow keys continuously for longer durations.

At the same time, they may be unwilling to forego the use of the alternate keystrokes that dual-function keys are set up to register.  

Despite these drawbacks, dual-function keys offer the advantage of allowing users to execute more keystrokes and functions with a limited number of keys.

If they work for you, you’ll have less need to switch between different profiles for different functions.

If you don’t have a keyboard with dual-function keys or the style of operation doesn’t work for you, consider the remaining two options discussed below.   

3. Use Layer Keys

60% keyboards without dedicated arrow keys will most likely have an option for using layer keys as arrow keys. 

Layer keys allow users to register unavailable keystrokes by combining a set of keys with a particular modifier.

In this regard, they are similar to keyboard shortcuts, with which regular computer users are already familiar. 

Just as holding down the ctrl and C keys simultaneously copies a selected item of text and ctrl + X cuts selected objects, combining two different keys can help move a cursor up.

Also, other combinations can move a cursor down, to the right, and to the left.

Many manufacturers use the following schema:

  • Fn + W = Up Arrow.
  • Fn + A = Left Arrow.
  • Fn + S = Down Arrow.
  • Fn + D = Right Arrow.

This arrangement has an obvious disadvantage because it requires users to engage 2 separate keys to register one keystroke.

For the same reasons, using layer keys to register arrow keys can be inefficient and tiring for those who prolifically use arrow keys.

Fortunately, the arrangement of the W, A, S, and D keys on QWERTY keyboards means that the orientation of arrow keys is maintained in this compromise solution.

Adjusting is easy for those willing to retrain their muscle memory, and you should be able to use your arrow keys without much effort once you’re used to it. 

Other manufacturers use similar arrangements, trying to retain the orientation of arrow keys in their layer implementation. For instance, the following schema is also fairly common among keyboard manufacturers:

  • Fn + I = Up Arrow.
  • Fn + J = Left Arrow.
  • Fn + K = Down Arrow.
  • Fn + L = Right Arrow.

Ultimately, the implementation of layer keys is up to individual manufacturers. 

If you are considering purchasing a 60% keyboard, look into the specific protocol for arrow key engagement of the different models you’re considering buying.

Similarly, if you already have a 60% keyboard and need help with using the arrow keys on it, refer to the owner’s manual for assistance.

The owner’s manual will likely include options for using arrow keys using layer keys. Additionally, it may describe multiple options for using arrow keys, whether using layer keys or not. 

Individual manufacturers may also allow you to use more than one set of layer keys to register arrow keys.

In this case, you can choose the implementation that suits your style of typing based on the types of applications you use most often. 

Finally, even in cases where manufacturers don’t implement options to set up layer keys in their keyboard design and software tools, users can do so using third-party applications.

Apps like TouchCursor and StickShift can help you set up similar functionality, even if your keyboard doesn’t come with layer keys implementation out of the box. 

So, if you like using arrow keys this way, you can always implement it on your 60% keyboard, regardless of the model you own. 

4. Customize Your Keyboard Setup

It’s unlikely that any manufacturer of 60% keyboards won’t have at least one or two preset means to register arrow keystrokes, even if they do not have dedicated arrow keys in their design layout. 

However, users may find the existing arrow key implementation inconvenient to use. Even with dedicated arrow keys, the size and placement of keys may not suit your individual preferences. 

In this case, you can completely customize your keyboard setup to better align with your tastes, assigning any value you choose to specific keys and key combinations.

This can be irrespective of the predetermined layout of your keyboard, and the process is known as keyboard remapping

Many third-party tools allow users to remap their keyboards. For instance, Windows users can use PowerToys, which is an excellent free utility that does the job well. 

To remap your keyboard using PowerToys, follow these steps:

  1. Download, install, and launch PowerToys.
  2. Navigate to Keyboard Manager on the sidebar to the left of the open PowerToys window.
  3. Select Remap a Key.
  4. A Remap Keys window should open. 
  5. Click on the + button to add a new key remap.
  6. Define the key you would like to remap. You can do this in the Key column.
  7. Alternatively, if you want to remap a combination of keys, click on the Type button and enter the combination
  8. Choose the keystroke or function you want to map onto the selected key or key combination in the Mapped To column.
  9. Once you’ve assigned all the keys and key combinations, confirm that your settings have been saved and close the application.
  10. Your keyboard should now be remapped according to your custom specifications.

Remember that you won’t be able to register the original keystrokes that your keys were set up to record once this process is complete.

Additionally, the legends recorded on your keycaps will no longer work as a visual signpost of the underlying keystrokes. 

Thus, remapped keyboards will take some getting used to unless you are already familiar with using one.

Again, a little practice is usually enough to get comfortable with the arrangement. Many users are adept at working this way.